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973.7L63 Corliss, Carlton Jonathan, 
B6C813a 1888- 

Abraham Lincoln and the 

Illinois Central Railroad, 
Main Line of Mid-America. 




the Class of 1901 

founded by 




Abraham Lincoln 

and the 

Illinois Central Railroad 



Lincoln of the Illinois Central 

The Illinois Central may well be proud of Abraham Lin- 
coln — not because he afterward became President of the 
United States, but because as an attorney he served his client 
superlatively well. 

— Paul M. Angle, Historian and 
Lincoln Biographer 

There are persons still living who remember seeing Abraham Lin- 
coln — so recently was he among us — yet, already more books have 
been written about him than about any other American. Nearly 
every biography of Lincoln contains references to his employment 
by the Illinois Central Railroad. Some biographies give consider- 
able emphasis to this phase of Lincoln's career; others give it little 
more than passing attention. 

Aside from his public service — as state representative, as Con- 
gressman, and finally as President of the United States — Lincoln 
spent more time in the service of the Illinois Central than in that of 
any other employer. And he received from the Illinois Central not 
only the largest law fee of his career but also more in fees than he 
received from any other source — public or private — before becom- 
ing President of the United States. 

The territory now served by the Illinois Central Railroad was 
Lincoln's home country. This is the only railroad that links Hod- 
genville, Kentucky, his birthplace, with the outside world. Abra- 
ham's boyhood home in Spencer County, Indiana, is not far from 
the present Illinois Central lines to Evansville, Indiana, and Owens- 
boro, Kentucky. As a river boatman who made two trips to New 
Orleans, Lincoln was not unacquainted with Paducah, Memphis, 
Vicksburg, Natchez, and Baton Rouge. On one of his trips he tar- 
ried for some time in New Orleans, the first large city he ever 

From the time Lincoln and his family left Indiana in 1830 until 
1861, when he became President of the United States, this farm boy. 


mill hand, boatman, store clerk, surveyor, postmaster, legislator, 
lawyer, and statesman lived in Illinois and traveled extensively 
about that state. He was a familiar figure in Vandalia, Springfield, 
Clinton, Bloomington, Chicago, Freeport, Peoria, Lincoln,* Pana, 
Galena, Mattoon, Champaign, Centralia, Pekin, and other Illinois 
Central cities and towns. 

As already pointed out, Lincoln took keen interest in the Illi- 
nois Central project from its inception. When he was a member of 
the state legislature his influence and his vote helped to incorporate 
the first Central Railroad Company in 1836. In 1837 he took a 
leading part in the passage of the ambitious internal improvement 
scheme, of which the Central Railroad was the backbone. As a mem- 
ber of Congress he introduced several memorials and resolutions 
and addressed Congress in behalf of the land-grant bill designed 
to promote the construction of the railroad. 

What part, if any, Lincoln played in the struggle for the railroad's 
charter in 1850-1851 has long engaged the interest of Lincoln stu- 
dents. In the absence of documentary proof, reliance has been 
placed on hearsay and circumstantial evidence, which is contra- 
dictory and inconclusive. These facts, however, are well established: 
Lincoln was in Springfield while the Illinois Central charter was 
under consideration in the legislature, and he was actively inter- 
ested in legislation before that body. The overwhelming vote in 
favor of the Rantoul charter (23 to 2 in the Senate and 72 to 2 in the 
House) would seem to be an indication that if Lincoln took part in 
the struggle he was in the Rantoul camp. 

No uncertainty surrounds Lincoln's employment by the Illinois 
Central as attorney during the period from 1853 until his nomina- 
tion for the Presidency in 1860. During this eight-year period Lin- 
coln handled numerous cases for the Company in the courts of the 
Eighth Judicial Circuit in central Illinois and no fewer than eleven 
cases before the Supreme Court of Illinois. He also represented the 
Company in an important case tried in the Federal Court in Chi- 

The Eighth Judicial Circuit was then composed of eight coun- 
ties, f Six of these counties — McLean, DeWitt, Macon, VVoodford, 

• Lincoln, the seat of Logan County. Illinois, was the first tewn in the United 
States to be named for Abraham Lincoln, who in 1839 fathered the bill creating the 
county. The county was named by Lincoln for Dr. Jehn L»gan, ©f Murphysboro, 
father of General John A. Logan. 

+ Reduced to five counties in 1857. 


Vermilion,* and Champaign — were traversed by the charter lines 
of the Illinois Central, and it is believed that Lincoln represented 
the railroad in all of them. In the three counties for which records 
are available — McLean, DeWitt, and Champaign — Lincoln rep- 
resented the railroad in at least fifty court cases between April, 1853, 
and October, 1859. At Clinton, in a single day— May 16, 1854— he 
appeared for the Illinois Central in seven cases. 

The first known court action in which Lincoln represented the 
Company was Illinois Central Railroad vs. Jonathan Howser, a 
right-of-way case, tried before Circuit Judge David Davis at Bloom- 
incrton on April 16, 1853, In this case, as in subsequent court ac- 
tions in McLean County, Lincoln was associated with General 
Asahel Gridley, local attorney for the Company. In DeWitt and 
Champaign counties the local attorneys were Clifton H. Moore and 
Henry C. Whitney, respectively. In nearly all cases tried in the 
courts of these counties Lincoln was associated with these local at- 

Lincoln's fees in suits tried in the circuit courts were in most 
cases exceedingly modest, measured by modern standards. For 
instance, from Bloomington on September 23, 1854, Lincoln wrote 
Solicitor Mason Brayman that he was drawing on the Company for 
$100, saying: 

The reason I have taken this liberty is that since last fall, by your 
request, I have declined all new business against the road, and out of 
which I suppose I could have realized several hundred dollars. Have 
attended, both at DeWitt and here, to a great variety of little business 
for the Company, most of which, however, remains unfinished, and [I] 
have received nothing. I wish now to be charged with this sum, to be 
taken into account on settlement. 

The "great variety of little business" to which Lincoln referred 
consisted of cases involving trespass, right-of-way, property damage, 
injury to livestock, freight claims, and so on. 

On September 14, 1855, Lincoln wrote James F. Joy, the general 
counsel of the Illinois Central: 

I have today drawn on you in favor of the McLean County Bank . . . 
for $150. This is intended as a fee for all service done by me for the 
Illinois Central Railroad since last September within the counties of 
McLean and DeWitt. Within that time ... I have assisted for the 

• Vermilion County then included all of what is now Ford County. 


Road in at least fifteen cases (I believe one or two more) and I have 
concluded to lump them off at ten dollars a case. 

The most celebrated case which Lincoln ever handled for the Il- 
linois Central, and the one which has attracted the greatest interest 
among Lincoln students and biographers, was Illinois Central Rail- 
road Company vs. the County of McLean and George Parke, Sheriff 
and Collector, commonly known as the "McLean County Tax 
Case." Taxing officers of several counties through which the rail- 
road was being built contended that the unique tax provision in 
the charter, requiring the Illinois Central to pay the state a charter 
tax representing a percentage of its gross earnings, in lieu of other 
taxes, related only to state taxes and did not affect ad valorem or 
other taxes levied against the railroad by the counties. 

On this assumption, local tax officers assessed the value of Illi- 
nois Central property in McLean County in 1852, then consisting 
almost entirely of right-of-way, at $53,682. Thereupon the county 
tax collector attempted to collect $428.56 in taxes from the Com- 
pany. On refusal of the Company to pay the taxes, in view of the 
charter provision, a court order was issued directing Sheriff Parke 
to advertise and sell the property of the railroad to raise the taxes 

At this juncture the Illinois Central, through Attorneys Brayman 
and Gridley, filed a bill for an injunction restraining the sheriff 
from carrying out the court order. Although the sum involved in 
the McLean County case was insignificant, the case was recognized 
as one of the most important before the courts of Illinois at that 

If the courts should decide that the charter tax provision was un- 
constitutional, then the state would suffer loss- of what promised to 
be, and what later proved to be, its most important source of 
revenue. In this respect the suit was of more concern to the state 
than to the Illinois Central. If the court should decide in McLean 
County's favor, then evci) county, town, and municipality through 
which the Illinois Central ran would be able to levy property taxes 
against the Company. If the state tax were ruled out and local taxes 
were ruled in, then the Illinois Central might be substantially 
benefited by the court decision. However, if the court should decree 
that the charter tax provision was constitutional and must remain 
in force, and that county and other local taxes could also be levied 
against the Company, then the Illinois Central would be shouldered 


with an ovenvhelming tax burden — far greater than that imposed 
upon any other railroad in the United States. 

Soon after Brayman and Gridley filed their injunction proceed- 
ings, Brayman sought to engage Lincoln as an associate in the case. 
The two were old friends and neighbors. Brayman regarded Lincoln 
as one of the ablest lawyers in Illinois. 

That Lincoln was fully aware of the significance of the case is 
clearly shown in the following letter which he wrote from Bloom- 
ington, September 12, 1853, to T. R. Webber, clerk of the Cham- 
paign County Court: 

On my arrival here ... I find that McLean County has assessed the 
land and other property of the Illinois Central Railroad for the pur- 
pose of county taxation. An effort is about to be made to get the ques- 
tion of the right to so tax the Company before the court and ultimately 
before the Supreme Court, and the Company is offering to engage me 
for them. As this will be the same question I have had under considera- 
tion for you, I am somewhat trammeled by what has passed between 
you and me, feeling that you have the first right to my services. . . . 

The question in its magnitude to the Company on the one hand and 
the counties in which the Company has land on the other, is the largest 
law question ... in the State; and, therefore, in justice to myself, I 
cannot afford, if I can help it, to miss a fee altogether. If you choose to 
release me, say so by return mail. ... If you wish to retain me . . . 
come directly over in the stage and make common cause with this 

Webber referred the matter to County Judge J. B. Thomas, rec- 
ommending the employment of Lincoln. Judge Thomas fully ap- 
proved and suggested that Webber go immediately to Bloomington 
prepared to engage Lincoln with a retainer up to $50 and to con- 
tract for "a fee in proportion to the importance of the claim," 
even up to $500. Evidently these negotiations fell through and 
Lincoln was released from his obligation to Webber, for on Oc- 
tober 3 Lincoln wrote Brayman from Pekin, Illinois: "Neither 
the County of McLean nor anyone in its behalf has made any en- 
gagement with me in relation to its suit to the Illinois Central Rail- 
road on the subject of taxation — I am now free to make an engage- 
ment for the road, and if you think fit you may 'count me in!' " 

Brayman lost no time. On October 7 he sent Lincoln a check for 
$250, saying in his letter that it was to be a general retainer, "other 
charges to be adjusted between us as the character of the business in 
which you may be called upon to engage may render proper." 


As clearly shown by the language of Brayman's letter, the retainer 
fee was not applicable solely to the McLean County Tax Case, but 
was to engage Lincoln to represent the railroad in other law mat- 
ters as well. Hence Lincoln's statement in his letter of September 14, 
1855, already quoted, that "since last fall, by your request, I have 
declined all new business against the road." 

The McLean County injunction proceeding came up before 
Judge Davis in November, 1853, John M. Scott appearing as at- 
torney for the county, and Brayman, Gridley, and Lincoln appear- 
ing as counsel for the Illinois Central. After a hearing the bill for 
injunction was dissolved and the suit was dismissed. This was in 
effect a decision in favor of the county. 

At this juncture Lincoln wrote James F. Joy, the attorney in 
general charge of the case, "I believe I can get the Supreme Court 
to reverse the Court's decision." Joy replied, "Go ahead." The ap- 
peal to the December, 1853, term of the Supreme Court, signed 
"Brayman, Joy, and Lincoln," is in Lincoln's handwriting, even to 
the signatures. The case was argued before the Supreme Court of 
Illinois in February, 1854, and again in January, 1856, by Joy and 
Lincoln for the Illinois Central and by Stephen T. Logan and John 
T. Stuart, former law partners of Lincoln, for the County of Mc- 
Lean. A more distinguished group of lawyers could hardly have 
been found in Illinois at that time. 

In a decision announced early in 1856, the Supreme Court held 
that it was within the constitutional power of the legislature to im- 
pose a gross revenue tax payable to the state in lieu of local ad va- 
lorem taxes. Students of the case agree that the court's decision 
turned upon a point in Lincoln's argument. 

Probably the most frequently discussed aspects of the McLean 
County Tax Case have been Lincoln's fee for services and his sub- 
sequent suit against the Illinois Central for the collection of that 
fee. Some time during the early part of 1856, after the Supreme 
Court had handed down its decision, Lincoln presented his bill to 
the Illinois Central. Whether his original bill was for $1,000 or 
$2,000 or $5,000, as has been variously reported, is not known; but 
it is definitely known that his bill as finally presented was for $5,000. 
This was by far the largest fee Lincoln ever collected from any 
client for his services as a lawyer. Even today lawyers' fees of this 
size are not common. In Lincoln's day tliey were extremely rare. 
Few lawyers in America could command fees of this size. Indeed, 


it is said that the largest fee ever collected by the eminent lawyer 
Rufus Choate was $2,500. 

Probably the most exhaustive study ever made of the personal 
finances of Abraham Lincoln was conducted by Dr. Harry E. Pratt 
and published in 1943 under the title The Personal Finances of 
Abraham Lincoln. According to this authoritative source, Lincoln's 
fees prior to the McLean County Case, in the majority of cases, were 
from $10 to $30. Rarely was his fee larger than $50, and in only 
three cases on record was it above $100. The largest fee Lincoln ever 
received up to 1855 was in the Truitt murder case in 1838, when 
he andiiis law partner, John T. Stuart, received and split $500. 

With Lincoln's reputation as a lawyer greatly enhanced by the 
fact that he was in the regular retainer of the Illinois Central Rail- 
road, the leading corporation in the state, he was able to command 
larger fees. In September, 1855, he is reported to have received a fee 
of $1,000 in the so-called Reaper Case {McCormick vs. Manny et 
al) tried in Cincinnati; and in 1857 he received $500 for his serv- 
ices in the Rock Island Railroad Bridge Case. 

The annual salary of the governor of Illinois was then $1,500; 
that of the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, $1,200; and 
that of Circuit Judge David Davis, $1,000. Therefore, Lincoln's 
$5,000 fee in the McLean County Case was equal to the salary of the 
governor of Illinois for three and one-third years; that of the chief 
justice for more than four years, or that of a circuit judge for five 
years. It compared with a salary of $2,000 a year received by Solici- 
tor Mason Brayman, who employed Lincoln in the McLean County 
Case, and a fee of $1,200 received by James F. Joy for his services 
as chief counsel in the case. Viewed against this background, it is 
readily understandable why officers of the Illinois Central may have 
been hesitant about paying Lincoln's bill. 

A much-discussed question in connection with this case has been 
whether Lincoln's suit against the Illinois Central to collect his 
$5,000 fee was friendly or unfriendly. Some biographers, including 
William H. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, have maintained that 
Lincoln brought his suit in a vengeful spirit because of an alleged 
slighting remark by some officer or employee of the Company. 

On the other hand, those who maintain that the suit was friendly 
advance the theory that the law officers of the Company, all of 
whom were close friends of Lincoln, felt that they would likely be 


criticized by the directors in New York if they should pay so large a 
fee to a lawyer without a contest. 

But there was another reason — almost entirely overlooked — why 
it might have been embarrassing to pay such a large fee at that time 
without being sued for it. By 1856 the English shareholders had 
become keenly interested in the Company's affairs. Their repre- 
sentatives and agents who visited America minutely examined the 
Company's accounts. These representatives did not hesitate to 
criticize the management and offer suggestions for economies. At 
this particular time they were advocating economies in order to 
forestall the necessity of further stock assessments. This pressure 
from abroad was undoubtedly a factor in the situation. 

There are several versions of the story of Lincoln's suit against the 
Illinois Central for the collection of his fee. Perhaps the one most 
widely accepted is found in Herndon's biography, which says: 

Probably the most important lawsuit Lincoln and I conducted was 
one in which we defended the lUinois Central Railroad in an action 
brought by McLean County, Illinois, in August, 1853, to recover taxes 
alleged to be due the county from the road. The road sent a retainer fee 
of |250. In the lower court the case was decided in favor of the railroad. 
An appeal to the Supreme Court followed, and there it was argued 
twice and finally decided in our favor. This last decision was rendered 
some time in 1855. Mr. Lincoln soon went to Chicago and presented our 
bill for legal services. We only asked for $2,000 more. The official to 
whom he was referred — supposed to have been the Superintendent, 
George B. McClellan, who afterwards became the eminent General — 
looking at the bill expressed great surprise. "Why, sir," he exclaimed, 
"this is as much as Daniel Webster himself would have charged. We 
cannot allow such a claim." Stung by the rebuff, Lincoln withdrew his 
bill, and started for home. 

Herndon was writing from memory, years after the incidents took 
place. As might be expected, his memory did not always reflect the 
true facts. For one thing, he recalled that in the lower court the case 
was decided in the railroad's favor, when the opposite was true. His 
statement that the Supreme Court handed down its decision some 
time in 1855 was also in error; the record shows that the final argu- 
ments before the court were made on January 16-17, 1856, and the 
decision was handed down at some later date. Herndon disagreed 
with himself concerning the episode. For instance, in a lecture de- 
livered in Springfield in 1866 on an "Analysis of the Character of 
Abraham Lincoln" he said Lincoln "presented his bill to an agent 



— whiskered-ringed-mustachioed-curly-headed finely-dressed, pom- 
pous, silly little clerk. This thing in boots made this remark to Mr. 
Lincoln — 'Why, sir, Daniel Webster would not have charged that 
much.' " 

At one time Hemdon had Lincoln presenting his bill "to an offi- 
cial, supposed to have been the superintendent, George B. McClel- 
lan," and at another time to "a silly little clerk." Obviously, Hem- 
don was wrong about McClellan, for at the time Lincoln presented 
his bill McClellan was a captain of engineers in the United States 
Army busily engaged in writing a report to the Secretary of War 
on French, Prussian, and Russian military tactics. He was not of- 
fered a position with the Illinois Central until November, 1856, 
and he did not resign from the Army to enter the service of the rail- 
road until January, 1857, several months after Lincoln is known to 
have presented his bill. 

It is now definitely known that Lincoln's bill was presented to 
John M. Douglas, who had succeeded Mason Brayman as solicitor 
of the Company. Douglas was a former Galena mining lawyer, a 
close friend of Lincoln, and was recognized as one of the ablest law- 
yers in Illinois. He later became president of the Illinois Central. 
Douglas referred the bill to Ebenezer Lane, former justice of the 
Supreme Court of Ohio, who was then resident director of the Com- 
pany in general charge of the Law Department. Judge Lane referred 
Lincoln's bill to President Osbom, who had then been in office only 
a few months. On July 21, 1856, Osbom referred Lincoln's bill to 
Joy with the following letter: 

Herewith copy of bill presented by Mr. Lincoln, to which I have re- 
plied that I know nothing of the circumstances of the case and 
enclose the same for information from you of the ground and merit of 
his claim. Will you please advise how much should be paid to Mr. 

Osbom was noncommital; he neither approved nor disapproved 
the bill, but sought background information from Joy. A few days 
later Judge Lane wrote Lincoln saying that Douglas had referred 
the bill to him and that since the case had been under Joy's direc- 
tion, the bill had been referred to that gentleman. Thus we have 
four high-ranking officers of the Illinois Central who were familiar 
with Lincoln's bill — President Osborn, Resident Director Lane, 
former General Counsel Joy, and Solicitor Douglas. 

The files of the Illinois Central do not contain Joy's reply to Os- 


bom, and the record is not clear as to Joy's attitude toward Lincoln's 

Referring to the matter many years later, Joy wrote: "I think 
there would have been no difficulty with Lincoln's bill if I had 
charged, as perhaps I ought to have done, $5,000. The time for such 
fees as the lawyers now ask had not arrived, and my own charge for 
the arguments in the case was only $1 ,200." 

According to Joy, "the railroad company, after declining to pay 
Lincoln the $5,000 he demanded because it thought the fee was too 
large, made him this proposition: 'Bring suit against the Company 
for the amount demanded, and no attempt will be made to defend 
against it. If, by the testimony of other lawyers, it shall appear to be 
a fair charge and there shall be a judgment for the amount, then we 
shall be justified in paying it.' " 

In the early years of the present century, John G. Drennan, Illi- 
nois Central attorney, made an extensive study of all available ma- 
terial relating to Lincoln's connection with the Company. He wrote 
to nine judges and lawyers who had firsthand knowledge of Lin- 
coln's suit for the $5,000 fee. Without exception, these men re- 
plied that they were of the opinion that Lincoln's suit was of a 
friendly nature.* 

Since that time much new material bearing on Lincoln's rela- 
tions with the Illinois Central has been discovered by Paul M. 
Angle, Benjamin F. Thomas, and others. This material throws ad- 
ditional light on Lincoln's suit against the Company and indicates 
that while Lincoln may have started his suit in what might be 
termed an unfriendly spirit, an amicable settlement was reached 
while the litigation was in progress, and the suit was tried in a 
friendly spirit. 

What evidence is there to support this thesis? First, there is a let- 
ter written by Lincoln to Steele and Summers of Paris, Illinois, 
February 12, 1857, about three weeks after he filed his suit, which 
indicates that he then doubted if he would be retained further by 
the Company. He wrote: "I have been in the regular retainer of the 
Company for two or three years, but I expect they do not wish to 
retain me any longer. . , . I am going to Chicago . . . on the 21st 

• The men referred to were Judge Anthony Thornton, former Governor John M. 
Palmer, Adlai E. Stephenson, grandfather of the present governor of Illinois, Ezra M. 
Prince, James S. Ewing, George Perrin Davis, Jonathan H. Rowell, Robert E. Wil- 
liams, and Charles L. Capen. 



inst., and I will then ascertain whether they will discharge me; and 
if they do, as I expect, I will attend to your business. . . ." 

On February 23, Lincoln conferred with Illinois Central officers 
in Chicago, as planned, and, contrary to his expectation, was con- 
tinued in the Company's retainer. 

Equally significant is a letter written by Judge Ebenezer Lane to 
President Osbom on May 14, 1857: 

We can now look back and in some degree estimate the narrow 
escape we have made . . . from burdens of the most serious character. 
While Lincoln was prosecuting his lawsuit for fees, it was natural for 
him to expect a dismissal from the Company's service . . . but before 
our settlement with him the Auditor [Jesse K. DuBois] . . . ap 
proached him with a view to retain him for the State for consultation. 
Lincoln answered he was not free from his engagement to us, but ex- 
pected a discharge. . . . Meanwhile we settled with Lincoln and for- 
tunately took him out of the field, or rather engaged him in our inter- 

The record shows that, while Lincoln's lawsuit against the Com- 
pany for his $5,000 fee was pending, he appeared for the Illinois 
Central in two court cases — one in De W^itt County in March and 
one in Champaign County in April, 1857. Thus it is clear that he 
not only remained in the service of the Illinois Central but con- 
tinued without interruption to try cases for the Company. 

When the case of A. Lincoln vs. Illinois Central Railroad Com- 
pany was reached for trial^t Bloomington on June 18, no one ap- 
peared for the railroad, and judgment went to Lincoln by default. 
That afternoon Solicitor Douglas arrived. He told Lincoln that 
default placed him in an embarrassing position and asked him to 
permit the judgment to be set aside and the case retried. To this 
Lincoln readily assented. The new trial was held on June 23, and 
again the verdict was in Lincoln's favor. From the $5,000 awarded 
in the case there was deducted the retainer fee which had pre- 
viously been paid Lincoln. 

Judge Charles L. Capen of Bloomington, at one time president of 
the Illinois State Bar Association, who was in the courtroom, related 
an amusing incident that occurred during the trial. "Mr. Lincoln 
tried his own case," Judge Capen said, "and as he got up to speak to 
the jury a button on his pantaloons gave way. Saying, 'Wait a min- 
ute, boys, till I fix my galluses,' he took out a pocket knife, whittled 
a stick and used that in place of a button, much to the amusement 
of the jurymen and spectators." 



Biographers have pointed out that Lincoln's political activities 
were closely related to his income from law practice and that the 
$5,000 which he received from the Illinois Central Railroad in 1857 
enabled him to finance his greatly increased political activities, in- 
cluding his history-making debates with Douglas the following 
year. Students of Lincoln are generally agreed that it was his de- 
bates with Douglas in 1858 that put him on the road to the Presi- 

The McLean County Tax Case and Lincoln's suit for fees in that 
case have been highlighted by most biographers to the exclusion of 
many other important services which he performed for the railroad. 
In October, 1853, a few days after Brayman had engaged Lincoln 
under a general retainer, Joy telegraphed Lincoln urging him to act 
as arbitrator in a dispute between the Illinois Central and the 
Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana Railroad (now the New 
York Central) involving the rights of the two railroads at what is 
now Grand Crossing, Chicago, then on the open prairie several 
miles south of the city. This was a genuine compliment to Lincohi, 
indicative of the high opinion in which the officers of the Illinois 
Central held him, even in that early day. The fact that Lincoln was 
in the regular retainer of the Company, however, arranged by 
Brayman, presumably unknown to Joy, precluded him from sen'ing 
as arbitrator in the crossing case. 

In March, 1856, at the request of the Law Department of the 
Illinois Central, Lincoln wrote an opinion on pre-emption rights 
with respect to government land in the land-grant zones. This care- 
fully prepared opinion set forth the law, precedents, and principles 
involved with such clarity and logic that it has served from that day 
to this as one of the important guideposts in this field of jurispru- 

Curiously, one of the most important law cases Lincoln ever han- 
dled for the Illinois Central Railroad, if not the most important case 
in his entire professional career, went virtually unnoticed by his- 
torians and biographers until it was discussed by Paul M. Angle, 
executive secretary of the Lincoln Centennial Association, in 1929, 
and by Charles LeRoy Brown, a Chicago attorney, in 1943. This 
case was the State of Illinois vs. the Illinois Central Railroad, 
brought by State Auditor Jesse K. DuBois in the fall of 1858 for the 
collection of state taxes allegedly due for 1857, as provided in Sec- 
tion 22 of the charter. 



The case hinged mainly Upon three questions: (1) the valuation 
of Illinois Central property, (2) whether or not the property should 
be valued on the same basis tor tax purposes as that of other rail- 
roads in Illinois, and (3) whether the gross revenue tax of 5 per 
cent provided in Section 16 of the charter and the state tax pro- 
vided in Section 22 of the charter exceeded or could exceed an 
amount equal to 7 per cent of the railroad's gross revenues. 

It was with reference to this case that Judge Ebenezer Lane wrote 
President Osborn May 14, 1857, while Lincoln's suit for fees was 
pending, that DuBois had sought to engage Lincoln to represent 
the state, but Lincoln had answered that he was not free from his 
Illinois Central engagement. 

At that time the country was heading into a depression. The out- 
look was gloomy, and within a few weeks Osborn hurried off to 
Europe in an effort to bolster confidence in Illinois Central securi- 
ties. Then in October came the assignment, a desperate move on the 
part of the officers and directors to save the Company from the bank- 
ruptcy courts. The railroad was straining every possible effort to 
keep the wolf from the door, while over its head, like the proverbial 
sword of Damocles, hung the threatened suit of State Auditor Du- 
Bois. If DuBois should press his suit and win, it might mean utter 
ruin for the Company. 

The Illinois Central enlisted Lincoln's aid in staving off the suit. 
On December 21, 1857, Lincoln, in Bloomington, wrote his friend 

J. M. Douglas of the I. C. R. R. Co. is here and will carry this letter. 
He says they have a large sum (near |90,000) which they will pay into 
the treasury now if they have an assurance that they shall not be sued 
before January, 1859 — otherwise not. I really wish you would consent 
to this. Douglas says they cannot pay more and I believe him. I do not 
write this as a lawyer seeking an advantage for a client; but only as a 
friend, urging you to do what I think I would do if I were in your situa- 
tion. . . . 

DuBois consented to withhold court action for the time being at 
least, and the railway company paid the "near $90,000" on account. 

Then came 1858, a year of depression for the Illinois Central and 
other railroads, a year of decision for the country politically. 

Stephen A. Douglas was then at the zenith of his fame and popu- 
larity. His arrival in Chicago on July 9 following his great fight in 
the Senate in opposition to the Lecompton constitution was "trium- 



phant, impressive, thrillingt" A special train, gayly decorated for 
the occasion, carrying four hundred enthusiastic Douglas partisans 
and a brass band, bore the "Defender of Popular Sovereignty" up 
the lake front to Great Central Station. 

At Weldon shops of the Illinois Central Railroad, located at 
Fourteenth Street, "the locomotives belched forth their roaring 
notes of welcome. The hardy hands of the mechanics resounded 
with applause, and cheers and huzzahs continued until the train had 
passed on to the city." 

Thirty thousand people gathered outside the Tremont House on 
Lake Street that evening to hear Douglas reply to a recent speech by 
Lincoln. The next evening Lincoln replied to Douglas from the 
same platform. Thus, informally, began the great debates between 
Lincoln and Douglas that were to echo around the world. Two 
weeks later Lincoln formally challenged Douglas to a series of joint 
debates. Douglas promptly accepted. For the next several weeks the 
debates held the center of the stage not only in Illinois but through- 
out the nation. Political excitement was at fever heat. Special trains 
were run from Chicago, Galena, Springfield, and other points to 
and from the cities and towns where the debates were staged. East- 
ern newspapers sent their star reporters to cover the debates. 

From Ottawa August 21 the scene shifted to Freeport August 27, 
then directly south 300 miles over the Illinois Central to Jonesboro 
September 15; then northward over the Illinois Central to Charles- 
ton September 18; and then westward to Galesburg October 7, to 
Quincy October 13, and finally to Alton October 15. 

With Osborn spending most of his time in New York and Eu- 
rope, Vice-President McClellan was the top man in Illinois. He was 
a friend and admirer of Douglas and he is said to have gone out of 
his way to accommodate the "Little Giant" in his campaign against 
Lincoln. McClellan's office car, equipped with sleeping compart- 
ments and dining facilities, is reported to have been placed at the 
disposal of Douglas. Since it was the only office car on the railroad, 
Lincoln did not fare so well. After all, wasn't Douglas a United 
States Senator and the acknowledged leader of the Democratic 
party, and wasn't Lincoln an Illinois Central attorney, who, travel- 
ing on a pass, expected to take "pot luck" with other railroaders? 

However, the way McClellan looked after Douglas and let Lin- 
coln tend for himself did not sit well with Lincoln's warm personal 
friend, DuBois. The state auditor regarded McClellan's action as 



reflecting the official attitude of the railroad, and he decided to even 
the score. How else can we account for the fact that the day after 
Douglas' victory over Lincoln at the polls, DuBois appeared before 
the State Supreme Court and filed his long-threatened suit against 
the Illinois Central for additional 1857 taxes which he claimed were 
due the state? Later, DuBois brought similar suits for taxes alleged 
to be due for 1858 and 1859. 

As a result of this litigation, a group of state officers and appraisal 
experts, made a nine-day tour of the Illinois Central Railroad dur- 
ing July, 1859, to view and assess the property. The trip was made 
in a special train, with Lincoln as host for the railway company. In 
addition to Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their sons Robert and Tad, 
the party included State Auditor DuBois and Mrs. DuBois; Secre- 
tary of State O. M. Hatch; State Treasurer William Butler; Judge 
Stephen T. Logan, special counsel for the state, and Mrs. Logan; 
T. H. Campbell, attorney, and Mrs. Campbell; Ward H. Lamon, 
attorney; and former Lieutenant-Governor John Moore. Every 
mile of the railroad was covered in daylight hours. Business was 
carried on, but it must^ave been a treat for the ladies and a lark 
for Robert and Tad Lincoln. 

The case came before the Supreme Court at Mount Vernon, Illi- 
nois, November 18-19, 1859. At that time the tribunal was com- 
posed of Judges Breese, Walker, and Caton. Among the principal 
witnesses called by Lincoln were Vice-President McClellan,* Colo- 
nel Roswell B. Mason, former chief engineer and general superin- 
tendent, and Leverett H. Clarke, who had succeeded McClellan as 
chief engineer. 

This was probably one of the instances to which General Mc- 
Clellan refers in his autobiography, McClellan's Own Story. "Long 
before the war, when vice-president of the Illinois Central Railroad 
Company," McClellan wrote, "I knew Mr. Lincoln, for he was one 
of the counsel for the Company. More than once I have been with 

•Senator Shelby M. Cullom, in his delightful reminiscences. Fifty Years of Public 
Service, recalls that in one case in Judge Davis' circuit to which the Illinois Central 
was a party, "it was announced that the Company was not ready for trial, and the 
court inquired the reason, to which Mr. Lincoln replied that Captain McClellan was 
absent. The court asked 'Who is Captain McClellan?" Lincoln replied that all he 
knew about him was that he was the engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad." Sena- 
tor Cullom commented: "What a strange juggling of destiny and fatel In little more 
than two years McClellan's fame had become world-wide as the General in charge of 
all the armies of the Republic. . . . Davis had become a Justice of the Supreme 
Court of the United States, and Lincoln had reached the Presidency!" 



him in out-of-the-way county seats where some important case was 
being tried, and, in the lack of sleeping accommodations, have spent 
the night in front of a stove listening to the unceasing flow of anec- 
dotes from his lips. He was never at a loss, and I could never quite 
make up my mind how many of them he really heard before and 
how many he invented on the spur of the moment." 

An anecdote is told by Brown in connection with the Mount 
Vernon trial. He relates that Lincoln, McClellan, and other partici- 
pants made the sixteen-mile trip from the Ashley station of the Illi- 
nois Central to Mount Vernon in a stage coach. In the coach was an 
alert twelve-year-old Mount Vernon boy named Watson, who, be- 
cause it was crowded, sat on Lincoln's lap during the journey, while 
Lincoln and his friends kept everyone in an uproar with their 
stories. The experience so delighted the boy that soon after his 
arrival he hurried over to the hotel, hoping for more entertainment. 
But, to his disappointment, he found Lincoln and McClellan in 
serious conference. 

The boy, grown to manhood, became a physician and as Dr. J. H. 
Watson, ministered to the people of Mount Vernon for more than 
fifty years. One of Dr. Watson's favorite stories related to his unique 
experience in the stage coach. 

The Supreme Court's decision, handed down in March, 1860, was 
that the valuation of the Illinois Central for purposes of taxation 
should be made on the same basis as that of other railroads in the 
state. This was a victory for Lincoln and the Illinois Central. The 
court found that the railroad's charter tax payments amounting to 
7 f)er cent of its gross revenues were all that were lawfully due the 
state. Commenting on this case, Brown said: 

Measured by money involved, this service was by far the most impor- 
tant of Lincoln's legal services. Measured by the obstacles to be sur- 
mounted, those services were remarkable. . . . The decision rescued 
the Company from foreclosure and financial collapse. Had the Illinois 
Central failed in 1860, it would have been disastrous to the State of 
Illinois. No re-organized corporation would have agreed to pay the so- 
called 7 per cent charter tax. 

Still another suit in which Lincoln represented the Illinois Cen- 
tral was known as the "Sand Bar Case" {Johnson vs. Jones and 
Marsh), involving the title to property originally a sand bar, occu- 
pied in part by the Illinois Central on the Chicago lake front. This 
case was tried before Federal Judge Thomas Drummond in Chicago 



in April, 1860. Associated with Lincoln on defense counsel was 
Melville W. Fuller, later Chief Justice of the United States. The 
trial lasted two or three weeks, during which Lincoln had an oppor- 
tunity to make influential friends and strengthen his political fences 
on the eve of the "Wigwam" Convention held in Chicago the follow- 
ing month — the first national convention ever held by a major po- 
litical party in Chicago and the first Republican Convention to pick 
a winning candidate. That candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illi- 
nois. It was while trying the Sand Bar Case that Lincoln sat for 
Hesler, the photographer, and also for Volk, the sculptor. 

Reference has been made to the climactic debates between Lin- 
coln and Douglas in the campaign of 1858. Historians generally 
agree that the decisive note in the debates was struck at Freeport. 
That morning Lincoln, with his friends and advisers, Joseph Medill, 
editor of the Chicago Tribune, Norman B. Judd, chairman of the 
Republican State Central Committee, andCongressmanE.B. Wash- 
burne of Galena, arrived from Dixon on a special Illinois Central 
train of twelve crowded cars. They were met at the station and ac- 
companied to their hotel by 2,000 enthusiastic citizens and a band. 

It was while traveling on the train from Dixon to Freeport that 
morning that Lincoln is reported to have reached an important de- 
cision. After leaving Dixon he handed Medill a sheet on which he 
had written four questions which he proposed to ask Douglas. Me- 
dill studied them carefully and then advised Lincoln to omit the 
second question: "Can the people of a United States territory, in a 
lawful way . . . exclude slavery from its limits prior to the forma- 
tion of a State constitution?" The question, Medill felt, would play 
into Douglas' hands by giving him an opportunity to expound his 
popular sovereignty theory. 

Lincoln looked out the train window for a while in meditation. 
Then he turned to Medill and said, "Joe, I respect your advice, but 
I can't go along with you on that question; I intend to spear it at 
Judge Douglas this afternoon." As the train sped on, Medill sought 
Washburne and Judd and told them of his conversation with Lin- 
coln. All three then went to Lincoln and sought to dissuade him. 
Lincoln took their advice good-naturedly, but informed them that 
his mind was made up. That afternoon, before a cheering throng of 
twenty thousand people, while Medill, Judd, and Washburne lis- 
tened with bated breath, hoping the fateful question would be 
omitted, Lincoln hurled all four questions at Douglas. 



When Douglas arose, he answered them in the order asked. To 
Question 2 his reply was: "In my opinion the people of a territory 
. . . have the lawful means to introduce it [slavery] or exclude it 
as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an 
hour anywhere unless it is supported by local f>olice regulations." 

Douglas' straightforward answer no doubt expressed his honest 
convictions, but it pleased neither the North nor the South and it 
had the effect two years later of splitting the Democratic party and 
thus making Lincoln's election possible. 

Three years later, in the White House, Lincoln and Medill were 
reminiscing. Lincoln recalled the incident on the train en route to 
Freeport and asked Medill if he remembered it. "Yes, clearly," said 
Medill, "and while Douglas' reply to your question ruined his 
chance of becoming President, it elected him to the Senate." Lin- 
coln nodded. "Yes," said he, "and now I have won the place he was 
playing for." 

At Jonesboro, the southernmost debating point, Lincoln was the 
house guest of his friend D. L. Phillips, Illinois Central land agent, 
whom Lincoln later, as President, appointed United States Marshal 
for southern Illinois. 

Notwithstanding the favoritism which McClellan displayed to- 
ward Douglas in the 1858 senatorial campaign, Lincoln had many 
warm friends in the Illinois Central organization who, like Phillips, 
supported his candidacy for President in 1860. He had no firmer 
friends than John M. Douglas, then head of the Law Department, 
and John Wilson, land commissioner of the railroad. After his 
nomination we find Lincoln writing his friend Colonel R. W. 
Thompson of Terre Haute: "I wish you would watch Chicago a 
little. They are getting up a movement for the 17th inst. I believe a 
line from you to John Wilson . . . would fix the matter. . . ." 

Reviewing Lincoln's career as a lawyer and the important part 
which the Illinois Central played in training and conditioning him 
for leadership, the prestige he acquired as a result of his prominent 
connection with the Company, the important contacts which he 
made as a result of this connection, the large fee he collected for his 
services, and his greatly increased income resulting from his Illinois 
Central employment, we are led to wonder how much these factors 
contributed to his advancement to the Presidency. 

President William McKinley once said of Lincoln: "The best 
training he had for the Presidency, after all, was his twenty-three 



years' arduous experience as a lawyer traveling the circuit of his 
district and state. . . . Here he met in forensic conflict . . . some 
of the most powerful legal minds of the West." 

When the War Between the States was finally brought to a close 
and millions of Americans, North and South, were rejoicing over 
the return of peace, the nation was again plunged into grief by the 


— V 

(-l^ Ucu 7 «dM*. 

Above drawing from A Man for the Ages, by Irving Bacheller, Copyright 1919, 1946, 
used by special permission of the publishers. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. 

tragic act of the madman Booth. Lincoln was dead. Then came the 
historic journey of the flag-draped train bearing the mortal remains 
of the martyred President to his home in Springfield. While thou- 
sands of silent and tearful Chicagoans occupied vantage points along 
the lake front, the funeral train entered the city over the Michigan 
Central and Illinois Central roads, which he had so often traveled 
in life, through Kensington, Grand Crossing, Woodlawn, Hyde 
Park, and Oakland to Park Row, where the casket was transferred 



to a catafalque drawn by six white horses. Passing beneath a series 
of memorial arches erected for the occasion, the cortege moved into 
Michigan Avenue, thence to Lake Street, so rich in Lincoln associa- 
tions, then westward to Dearborn and southward to the City Hall. 
Two days later, the train completed the homeward journey of this 
Man of the Ages, whom Judge Walter Malone of Memphis, author 
of "Opportunity," characterized as 

A blend of mirth and sadness, smiles and tears, 
A quaint knight-errant of the pioneers; 

A homely hero born of star and sod; 

A Peasant Prince; a Masterpiece of God! 


Compliments of the 





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